School-age

5 ways to make sure your morning routine works for back to school

Mornings don't have to suck. Try these tips and tricks to get your family out the door without the tears and forgotten lunches.

As a mom of four, I know just how hard it can be to get everyone out the door on time without any shouting or meltdowns—especially after the long, lazy days of summer. Try these parent-tested tricks to start a morning routine for school that gets everyone’s day off to a smooth and hopefully relaxed start.

Prep the night before

At my house, it can often feel like half the morning routine happens before my head hits the pillow the night before. Caitlin Schoo, a teacher and mom of three kids, ages eight, six and 19 months, from Milton, Ont., uses the same strategy. A lot of the groundwork is done in the evenings, when lunches are made and backpacks are filled with whatever is needed for the next day. 

A calendar or whiteboard that lists library visits, gym classes, homework due dates, field trips and extracurriculars can help prevent any last-minute scrambling for missing items. Schoo also sets her alarm early to give herself some extra time to get organized and ready before the kids are up. “It’s hard to do anything if my toddler is with me,” admits Schoo, whose husband heads out the door before the rest of the household.

Come dressed and ready

Schoo’s family has a rule that everyone comes to the breakfast table dressed for the day. They use weekends to catch up on laundry, and the kids help by choosing five outfits (the family throws in some educational fun by checking the weather forecast), which are then added to a bin for each day of the week. “Not only is it easier for the older kids to get dressed independently, but there is no arguing about what they’re going to wear,” she says. Baskets with things like face masks and outdoor gear can be kept close to the front door to make sure those last-minute items are easy to find. 

Keep the action in one zone

I eventually figured out that letting my kids wander back upstairs meant losing track of them. Schoo agrees, and keeps all their hair accessories, toothbrushes and extras like sunscreen on the main floor of the house to prevent any distraction or dawdling. Being able to see what the kids are up to means she can also give reminder prompts when needed. Clear expectations lessen the chance of a morning that goes off the rails, says Natasha Sharma, a Toronto-based parenting expert who is also mom to a five- and eight-year-old. “Consistency and structure create a calm tone to start the day,” she says. “There is a greater chance for success when kids know what to expect. Then they move through the ‘routine’ out of habit, and habits are extremely powerful tools for repetitive behaviours that stick.” 

Tools such as charts with visual cues for younger kids and routine checklists for more independent kids can help keep them on track and encourage initiative. We have large, easy-to-read clocks in the kitchen and bathroom, where the kids spend most of the morning—they all know the absolute latest minute they need to be ready at the door.  

Validate big feelings (theirs and yours)

Transitions tend to come with big feelings, and this year’s return to school is sure to bring some uncertainty, even for the kids who are eager to return. “I believe most kids will be excited, but for some, there will be resistance or even worry,” says Sharma, who suggests giving your kids a head start on processing their emotions. “Before the first day comes, spend one-on-one time with them to ask how they feel and to listen without judgment.” Keep setting time aside during the year to chat about school, preferably not during the morning rush when emotions might be running high. 

Sharma reminds parents to check in with themselves. “We don’t need to pretend it’s going to be a breeze, but working on our own mindset makes a difference.” Schoo has found her family’s well-planned mornings leave them more time to connect with each other. “We have extra time for snuggles and any conversations they want to have, which is something we are really going to need this year.”